Beef and beer. The two primary food groups of the Calgary Stampede, right? Well, remember what your mother said about the most important meal of the day.
Yes, that means Stampede breakfasts. Yee-haw! They’re an important cultural component of the annual shindig—western hospitality served up with chuck wagons, sizzling grills and some two-step dancing.
Best of all, for budget-conscious road trippers, they’re mostly free. In other words, no chafing the back of your hand to pull the wallet from those crisp new blue jeans. In fact, one can carbo load gratis for all 10 days of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
Mind you, there’s not a lot of variety to this diet: day after day of pancakes, sausages and orange juice. But did I mention, they’re free? About the only cost is a worthy donation to the Calgary Food Bank through the Put the Boots to Hunger campaign, affiliated with a number of breakfasts.
The only problem is trying to decide which breakfast(s) to attend. There’s got to be well over 100 of these flapjack fests on offer every year. Seemingly every community association, shopping centre, charity, corporation of note and, of course, politician hosts their own. So, as a public service, here are five Stampede breakfasts worth putting on your calendar.
1. Ismaili Muslim Community Breakfast – This will blow your mind. The best Stampede breakfast is hosted by Calgary’s Ismaili Muslim community. The food (especially the spiced eggs and lentils) is sublime, the temple tours enlightening and the organization so efficient I’d happily let these people run the world. Is it any wonder this is the faith of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi? This year, the “breakfast” is taking place at sunset to mark the “breaking” of the “fast” (ie breakfast) of Ramadan.
Ismaili Muslim Community Breakfast
1128 45 Avenue N.E. (SE corner of McKnight Blvd and Deerfoot Trail); lots of volunteers to direct you to free parking and shuttle buses
Saturday, July 5, starts at 8:30 pm, breakfast served at 9:52 p.m.
2. Calgary Caravan Breakfasts – The Stampede Carvan Committee is a team of volunteers that puts on two-a-day Stampede breakfasts throughout the city. Besides breakfast, these folks arrange native hoop-dancing demonstrations and visits from the Stampede queen and princesses. Perhaps the best of these, from an intimate, community perspective, is at Britannia Shopping Plaza, where after wolfing down breakfast on a hay bale, you can work off the calories with a lovely walk on Brittania Drive overlooking the Elbow River.
Britannia Shopping Plaza
815 49 Avenue S.W
Friday, July 11, 9-11 am
3. CBC Calgary – The Caravan Committee also coordinates CBC Calgary’s early-morning Stampede breakfast, now in its 25th year, with co-host Calgary Co-op offering gluten-free options. Mingle in CBC’s sun-dappled parking lot while watching a live broadcast of the Calgary Eyeopener and grooving to some great musical talent.
1724 Westmount Boulevard NW (along Memorial Drive)
Thursday, July 3, 7-9 am
4. Community Natural Foods – As a health-food store, it’s not surprising that Community Natural Foods boasts the greenest Stampede breakfast. This ranges from gluten-free, vegetarian and organic options to encouraging participants to bring reusable plates. Think natural, local sausages, real maple syrup and the freshest orange juice I’ve had at any of these breakfasts.
Community Natural Foods – Chinook Station Market
202, 61 Avenue SW
Saturday, July 12, 7-10 am
5. Fluor Rope Square – If you’re staying or visiting downtown, just wander down to Olympic Plaza, across from City Hall. Each morning, the cooks go through 150 gallons of pancake batter and 500 pounds of bacon, all cooked on smoking griddles at the back of real chuckwagons. After wiping the syrup from your lips, try your feet at square dancing and watch the daily native parade.
Fluor Rope Square
Olympic Plaza (corner of 7 Avenue and Macleod Trail SE)
Saturday July 5 and Monday July 7 to Saturday July 12, 8:15-10:30 am
Unless you’re well connected, you may have to pull some wedding crasher stunts to get into the most exclusive Stampede breakfasts. I’m talking about private parties, where law firms, investment bankers, oil companies and the like treat their clients to a fine morning gathering, perhaps enhanced with a little sauce. Obviously, these soirees aren’t advertised. To get a glimpse of how this world turns, you may have to peer into the windows of participating restaurants like River Café, on Prince’s Island, which serves guests fresh pastries, free-range eggs and house-made granola. Of course, first-class pancakes are also on offer.